Max du Preez has described Michael Schmidt’s Drinking with Ghosts: The Aftermath of Apartheid’s Dirty War by Michael Schmidt as “the best reporter’s notebook I’ve ever read”. At the launch of the book at il Giardino Decor in Milpark recently, Rian Malan said: “I hate to agree with Max du Preez about anything, but he’s quite right.”
Schmidt has 19 years’ journalistic experience, including at The Mercury and Sunday Times. He is now the director of the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism. Malan said Drinking with Ghosts is not your obvious journalistic memoir but contains snapshots and vignettes of half a lifetime of journalism. From the book one can get a clear picture of who Schmidt was when he started out, and while many journalist start of as idealists and then lose their enthusiasm, this has not been Schmidt’s case. “His lungs keep hungering … he’s still in pursuit of the ultimate South African story,” Malan said.
The author thanked Malan for the “embarrassing yet erudite introduction”. Schmidt said that writing Drinking with Ghosts was a purgative exercise for him. “As a journalist you realise you are incredibly privileged to see how a society operates,” he said. “To be there and to be the first draft of history – but that history is a burden on the people of my generation.”
Schmidt has been outspoken about the fact that South Africa’s transition from apartheid to democracy has not been as peaceful as we would like to tell ourselves. In Drinking with Ghosts Schmidt goes behind the scenes to unearth the terrorist actions of the previous regime – from arms deals and massacres to mass poisoning and nuclear weapons. Schmidt’s generation has been haunted by the ghosts of apartheid. He said the Truth and Reconciliation Commission‘s hearings, flawed as they were, gave voice to people trying to exhume their country’s past.
Malan asked Schmidt to share an anecdote from the book, and the author told a tale of when he was a journalist for the Sunday Times and he and Mzilikazi wa Afrika pretended to be Catholic priests in order to enter a hospital. Schmidt and Wa Afrika were looking for victims of Wouter Basson, the cardiologist also known as “Doctor Death”, who was the head of Project Coast, a secret chemical and biological warfare project. Schmidt was wearing a T-shirt and a crucifix around his neck, which he flipped out and proclaimed to the orderly: “We’re from the church, we’ve come to spread some cheer!”
Malan asked: “Is journalism what it used to be?” Schmidt said that the media live inside a bubble and project outwards from this bubble. He said he considers himself a field journalist and can think of nothing better than to be away from the news desk, travelling and writing stories on the ground. “The job of the journalist is truth seeking,” he said, adding that the facts of our past have been obscured. “This notion of a peaceful transition is bullshit. Get the facts straight and all of those different truths will emerge.”
“I’ve seen two things happen with my generation,” Schmidt said. The first is a flood of memoirs like a dam that has broken, which he called a “psychological watershed”. The second is a surge in suicides over what happened during apartheid.
The question and answer session was dominated by discussions of politics, identity and representation in the media, activism, the decline of grassroots journalism and how ideology shapes politics and our idea of democracy. At the end of the formal session the audience moved outside for more wine and debate under a drizzling Joburg sky.
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Annetjie van Wynegaard (@Annetjievw) live tweeted from the event using the hashtag #livebooks:
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Listening to Distant Thunder: The Art of Peter Clarke by Elizabeth Rankin and Philippa Hobbs is a book that tells the story of the community trauma brought about by forced removals in the Cape, as seen in the art of Peter Clarke.
Although Clarke personally felt the social disruption of forced removal, his art remained optimistic and perceptive.
The book was launched at the David Krut Bookstore in Johannesburg recently. A number of Clarke’s friends and family were in attendance, reminiscing about the belated artist’s humility and exuberant life.
Racine Edwards wrote an article for City Buzz about the launch and how the book came about.
Read the article:
“It was a horror to know that he was gone, but even more of a horror to think that everything would have to be turned into past tense,” [Hobbs] joked, explaining her feelings about the time of Peter’s passing. She continued to explain that the hardest part of writing about someone’s life, while they’re alive, is that you never know where to end and that was especially true for Peter. “He kept us scrambling and towards the end he became even more exuberant!”
Penguin nooi jou graag na die bekendstelling van Goeiemore, Mnr. Mandela deur Zelda la Grange.
Die geleentheid vind plaas op Dinsdag, 23 Desember 2014 by die Walvissaal in Hartenbos en begin om 15:00. Toegang is gratis en boeke word te koop aangebied.
La Grange sal in gesprek wees met Melt Myburgh oor hierdie boek wat ook in Engels beskikbaar is as Good Morning, Mr Mandela.
Moet dit nie misloop nie!
- Datum: Dinsdag, 23 Desember 2014
- Tyd: 15:00
- Plek: Walvissaal Hartenbos
Hartenbos | Padkaart
- Gespreksgenoot: Melt Myburgh
Gené Gualdi launched her memoir Bollywood Blonde at The Book Lounge recently. Although she is now a brunette, she is every bit as bubbly as she was when she set out on her Bollywood adventure. In conversation with Janine van Assen, she told the audience about her dream job in the world’s biggest film industry turned into an unqualified nightmare.
When she was 23, Gualdi was offered an opportunity to work for a successful producer in Bollywood. It seemed like everything she had been waiting for and she jumped at the opportunity. When she arrived in Mumbai, she discovered that she was expected to act as The Producer’s girlfriend.
Gualdi says that living in India tested her every single day. In addition to the trial The Producer presented, she found things were extreme and very different to what she was accustomed to. She says at age 23, when she arrived in India, and she just wanted to party, but The Producer would not allow it. He kept her under lock and key, and treated her like his personal barbie doll: she had to lose weight, dye her hair and wear clothes he bought for her.
Gualdi worked for The Producer for six years. For the last two years, she was kept isolated in an apartment. When she eventually decided to leave The Producer for good, he reacted violently. The Italian embassy had to intervene, and he cracked her jaw in the altercation. The publication of the book was met with some controversy in India. She sent the book to an actor friend in Bollywood, who reacted badly and circulated the manuscript. She has been threatened with legal action, but decided to go ahead with the book anyway. The book has reached India, and she is waiting to see how The Producer will react to this tell-all.
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Erin Devenish (@ErinDevenish811) tweeted from the event using #livebooks:
A remarkable book deserves a remarkable party, especially when the book is a re-issue by Fernwood Press of an earlier publication with a fascinating tale in its own right. Iziko’s Rust en Vreugd museum was the perfect spot for the launch of Listening to Distant Thunder: The Art of Peter Clarke by Elizabeth Rankin and Philippa Hobbs.
Originally published by Standard Bank, the 500 copies printed in support of a curated exhibition in May 2011 soon sold out. Art lovers eager to know more about the late Peter Clarke, one of South Africa’s foremost artists, clamoured to buy the book at the exhibition, although it was never available through book shops to a wider audience, until now.
Steve Connolly welcomed a terrific turnout comprising Clarke’s friends and family, the photographer George Hallett and poet James Matthews, as well as local art lovers and book lovers. He said it was a celebration of a great South African artist, poet, writer and teacher, who was also a gentle, sensitive man.
Connolly recalled returning to South Africa with his wife in 2011, after a stint of living in the UK. When he saw Clarke’s exhibition at the Iziko South African National Gallery (it appeared later at the Standard Bank Gallery in Johannesburg) he was greatly moved by the work. Publishing this book was a labour of love and a series of happy coincidences. He praised the authors for their fascinating text and the selection and layout of Clarke’s beautiful images.
“Our whole approach with this project is that we want Peter Clarke to be a secret no longer, his name known only in the Cape Peninsula, in small informed artistic elite. We hope that by bringing this book back to life we can increase his profile, bringing his stature and reputation into its rightful place in the broader community,” Connolly said.
The first item on the programme was a poetry performance by Clarke’s niece, Michelle October. She had composed “Still Life with Artificial Eye” in memory of her uncle. This somewhat irreverent take on the more personal details of his life was much enjoyed by those in the audience who knew and loved Clarke. Her second poem, “Population Explosion”, explored the harsher realities of his life, told with a keenly observed eye.
Rankin, who flew in from New Zealand to celebrate the launch, recalled the origins of her experience of the artist’s enormous talent. As a co-curator of an exhibition entitled “Printmaking in the Transforming South Africa”, which took place in 1997 for the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, she came into contact with some of the lesser known printmakers working in the country – in particular black artists who had fallen below the radar.
“At that time we uncovered the consummate artistry of Clarke as we did the early research for the exhibition’s brochure. It was just amazing to find a man who had ploughed the furrow all on his own and produced such amazing work,” Ranking said. This was what led to the awareness that they really needed an artist’s biography dedicated to his life and work.
Rankin spoke of the heartbreaking news of Clarke’s death, which was mercifully peaceful. It posed a substantial challenge to them as writers. She reflected on the need to rewrite the book: “Changing the narrative from the present to the past tense was a most painful process,” she said.
Hobbs shared her recollections of working with the artist, and in particular the acrylic painting, “Anxiety”, that started her own research and writing process. “I was so drawn to a work done in 1966, that I decided to start there. It was done when he was still living in Simon’s Town, in the era just before forced removals. We’re looking at 1963 to 1970, that encapsulates the mood of the time. Peter said that people knew there was a distant rumble of disaster and trauma on the horizon. There was a lot of contestation and argument with authorities and people were horrified at the prospect of forced removals from Simon’s Town. Peter said there was a listlessness and passivity about the people,” she said.
Hobbs spent many hours in the Simon’s Town Museum, trying to work out the history of this traumatic era. She said that Clarke had depicted the time with irony and humour. “Those who knew him remember him as a man who reflected deeply on the time. He was also a man to see the human side, even the comical side. When he spoke of the trauma, he also told funny stories. He remembered a policeman, Tarzan Jacobs, who had a lot of henchmen. When they got hold of Peter, he knew he was a ‘gonner’ as the police van screeched to a halt.
“Tarzan started to rough Peter up. They picked through his pockets and saw his address book. He saw so many names he recognised, famous artists. He asked Peter about it and Tarzan then explained that he was also an artist. They started talking about art. In that moment, they were able to meet as artists. This was the power of Peter Clarke’s life and work. He humanised the people he met.”
Following the engaging talk by both the authors, Clarke’s lifelong friend George Hallett took the microphone. He recalled their invitation to the home of Jan Rabie and Marjorie Wallace which was interrupted by a visit from the police. Wallace hid them under the bed as one of her friends removed her clothes, except for her knickers. “We saw the boots from under the bed and the policeman suddenly departed saying, ‘O jammer‘ at the sight of a half-naked lady.”
Hallett, recalling the ambience in which they were brought up, said Clarke’s house in Sondersteen was our Harlem Renaissance. We listened to Abdullah Ibrahim and Beethoven. One of our friends picked up Mozart’s flute concerto. Peter said, ‘Be careful! That’s my entire record collection!’ He paid tribute to his friend in glowing terms, as did poet, James Matthews with a performance of his own poetry.
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Liesl Jobson tweeted live from the event using the hashtag #livebooks:
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NOW that the Springboks’ disappointing performance last month has been thoroughly picked over, perhaps it is time to look at the contribution of rugby’s off-field team to this demoralising episode and, hopefully, learn some lessons from it.
Last year, the Springboks played 12 games. This year, an extra two were loaded on to what was already a heavy schedule. In the last, disastrous Wales game on November 29, the Boks looked worn out, which was hardly surprising. Most of them had been playing one high-intensity, all-or-nothing game after another since Super Rugby began in February, 10 months earlier. The effect of this on their bodies was brought home by the devastating injury suffered by Jean de Villiers, whom Heyneke Meyer had days earlier identified as the one man critical to SA’s chances of winning the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
To add to the problems, the large squad felt messy: there were too many players brought along for the ride, never even getting a shot at warming the bench. There were too many black faces in this contingent not to suspect some window-dressing. But for all the passengers in the squad, both black and white, it must have been a disheartening experience.
There were questions as to why Meyer didn’t include more newcomers in his match-day squads, particularly against Italy. I think the answer lies with the off-field team.
The performance indicators in Meyer’s contract are all about winning every game. Development — racial or otherwise — will not win him a second term.
So, why did the South African Rugby Union (Saru) insist on the Boks adding on the Wales game to their schedule after the international Test window was over? The risks of this additional burden outweighed any advantage to the team.
Next year is the most important year in world rugby. Surely preparation for that should have been uppermost in everyone’s minds?
The Boks had already played Wales twice this year, so they were not gaining experience against a little-known opponent. Meyer had already had three games in which to test players’ ability to adapt to wet weather. The inevitable downside — the damage done to the Springbok brand and to team morale by a humiliating loss that will haunt them for another six months until they get a chance to redeem themselves — is huge.
The answer is money. Saru was reportedly paid £750,000 for the Wales game. When Jurie Roux, the CEO of Saru, announced that the two additional games — against the World XV in June and Wales in November — he said the extra income earned would go towards funding preparations for the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
Have the Springboks not already earned their keep, then? A look at Saru 2013 annual report shows its turnover for 2013 as just under R800m.
Almost of all Saru’s income is from two sources: sponsors — chief among them Absa — and the sale of broadcasting rights.
A mere R194m is allocated to “high performance”, the category that includes the Springboks, the Springbok Sevens and the Springbok Women’s team, and that sum is split among all three teams. So less than an eighth of Saru’s income goes to the team which attracts the bulk of it.
Springboks? Cash cows might be a more appropriate name. They are being flogged to the limit in order to keep afloat a bloated organisation.
My (very modest) New Year’s wishes for South African rugby are that:
• Saru transforms itself into a rational, streamlined, visionary organisation in which all its constituent parts forget self-interest and work together for the greater good of rugby;
• Saru sets the professionals free to get on with the business of producing world-beating teams that make all South Africans proud;
• The smaller unions and the clubs attached to the Super Rugby franchises stop living off the earnings of the professionals and dedicate themselves instead to semiprofessional and amateur rugby. They could have a huge role to play in restoring club rugby to its former glory — with all the concomitant benefits to the community — but for that to happen, they have to give up their pretensions of professionalism; and
• Saru and all its stakeholders think through what it means to be a flagship South African brand in 2015 and then formulate an effective policy to make it happen, starting from the top down. The Springbok coach needs to be contractually incentivised to select and develop a more racially diverse team, as do the Super Rugby coaches.
Saru should acknowledge that channelling development, particularly of black players, through its constituent unions does not work and it needs to come up with a better plan for nurturing and promoting black rugby talent.
It is pointless waiting for the government to sort out education and school sport. Saru should take the lead.
*This column first appeared in Business Day